Eerily prescient 1907 poem by Stefan George: “Der Widerchrist”

This poem was written in 1907 by the German symbolist and “national renewal” poet Stefan George. It is as if he was prescient about what would happen in his own country in 1933. Or perhaps he simply understood a timeless truth about human nature: the attraction of a charismatic flimflam artist or ideology, and how they can lead a nation astray and asunder.

Those who have read Peter Hoffmann’s priceless biography of the Stauffenberg brothers Berthold and Claus will be aware they were both members of Stefan George’s inner circle. And indeed, Claus would countless times refer to this poem whenever Hitler [y”sh] was being discussed.

Here is Peter Viereck‘s verse translation, and below that follows the German original.

The Anti-Christ
He comes from the mountain, he stands in the grove!
Our own eyes have seen it: the wine that he wove
From water, the corpses he wakens.
O could you but hear it, at midnight my laugh:
My hour is striking; come step in my trap;
Now into my net stream the fishes.
The masses mass madder, both numbskull and sage;
They root up the arbors, they trample the grain;
Make way for the new Resurrected.
I’ll do for you everything heaven can do.
A hair-breadth is lacking – your gape too confused
To sense that your senses are stricken.
I make it all facile, the rare and the earned;
Here’s something like gold (I create it from dirt)
And something like scent, sap, and spices –
And what the great prophet himself never dared:
The art without sowing to reap out of air
The powers still lying fallow.
The Lord of the Flies is expanding his Reich;
All treasures, all blessings are swelling his might . . .
Down, down with the handful who doubt him!
Cheer louder, you dupes of the ambush of hell;
What’s left of life-essence, you squander its spells
And only on doomsday feel paupered.
You’ll hang out your tongues, but the trough has been drained;
You’ll panic like cattle whose farm is ablaze . . .
And dreadful the blast of the trumpet.

Stefan George’s original:

DER WIDERCHRIST
Dort kommt er vom Berge · dort steht er im Hain!
Wir sahen es selber · er wandelt in Wein
Das Wasser und spricht mit den Toten.‹
O könntet ihr hören mein Lachen bei Nacht:
Nun schlug meine Stunde · nun füllt sich das Garn ·
Nun strömen die Fische zum Hamen.
Die weisen die Toren – toll wälzt sich das Volk ·
Entwurzelt die Bäume · zerklittert das Korn ·
Macht Bahn für den Zug des Erstandnen.
Kein Werk ist des Himmels das ich euch nicht tu.
Ein Haarbreit nur fehlt und ihr merkt nicht den Trug
Mit euren geschlagenen Sinnen.
Ich schaff euch für alles was selten und schwer
Das Leichte · ein Ding das wie Gold ist aus Lehm ·
Wie Duft ist und Saft ist und Würze –
Und was sich der grosse Profet nicht getraut:
Die Kunst ohne roden und säen und baun
Zu saugen gespeicherte Kräfte.
Der Fürst des Geziefers verbreitet sein reich ·
Kein Schatz der ihm mangelt · kein Glück das ihm weicht ..
Zu grund mit dem Rest der Empörer!
Ihr jauchzet · entzückt von dem teuflischen Schein ·
Verprasset was blieb von dem früheren Seim
Und fühlt erst die Not vor dem Ende.
Dann hängt ihr die Zunge am trocknenden Trog ·
Irrt ratlos wie Vieh durch den brennenden Hof ..
Und schrecklich erschallt die Posaune.

 

6 thoughts on “Eerily prescient 1907 poem by Stefan George: “Der Widerchrist”

  1. Another generation, another poet, the same impulse:

    Man of Peace – Bob Dylan

    Look out your window, baby, there’s a scene you’d like to catch
    The band is playing “Dixie,” a man got his hand outstretched
    Could be the Führer
    Could be the local priest
    You know sometimes Satan comes as a man of peace

    He got a sweet gift of gab, he got a harmonious tongue
    He knows every song of love that ever has been sung
    Good intentions can be evil
    Both hands can be full of grease
    You know that sometimes Satan comes as a man of peace

    Well, first he’s in the background, then he’s in the front
    Both eyes are looking like they’re on a rabbit hunt
    Nobody can see through him
    No, not even the Chief of Police
    You know that sometimes Satan comes as a man of peace

    Well, he catch you when you’re hoping for a glimpse of the sun
    Catch you when your troubles feel like they weigh a ton
    He could be standing next to you
    The person that you’d notice least
    I hear that sometimes Satan comes as a man of peace

    Well, he can be fascinating, he can be dull
    He can ride down Niagara Falls in the barrels of your skull
    I can smell something cooking
    I can tell there’s going to be a feast
    You know that sometimes Satan comes as a man of peace

    He’s a great humanitarian, he’s a great philanthropist
    He knows just where to touch you, honey, and how you like to be kissed
    He’ll put both his arms around you
    You can feel the tender touch of the beast
    You know that sometimes Satan comes as a man of peace

    Well, the howling wolf will howl tonight, the king snake will crawl
    Trees that’ve stood for a thousand years suddenly will fall
    Wanna get married? Do it now
    Tomorrow all activity will cease
    You know that sometimes Satan comes as a man of peace

    Somewhere Mama’s weeping for her blue-eyed boy
    She’s holding them little white shoes and that little broken toy
    And he’s following a star
    The same one them three men followed from the East
    I hear that sometimes Satan comes as a man of peace

  2. “…The Lord of the Flies is expanding his Reich…” If that is Viereck’s actual translation of “…Der Fürst des Geziefers verbreitet sein reich…” then I am surprised. The word “Reich” (should be capitalized, as all German nouns are) means “realm” or sometimes in context “nation” or perhaps “kingdom” or “empire.”

    To translate it as “Reich” is tendentious at best, the more so that in 1907, the phrase “Deutsches Reich” would have been translated as “German Empire.” The term didn’t acquire its modern sinister connotation until the Third (1933-1945) Reich: the “Deutsches Reich” of 1907 having been the Second (1871-1919) Reich, which ended with Versailles; and the Holy Roman Empire being the original, brought to an end by Napoleon in 1806 IIRC.

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